United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai

United Arab Emirates Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber attends a plenary meeting, after a draft of a negotiation deal was released, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 13, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky Acquire Licensing Rights

LONDON, Dec 13 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Sultan al-Jaber has cobbled together a climate deal from the jaws of disaster. On Monday, the president of the 28th session of the United Nations’ Conference of the Parties (COP) looked set to preside over an extremely bad deal on decarbonising the planet, or no deal at all. On Wednesday, he clinched an accord that is far from good, but at least doesn’t stop decarbonisation in its tracks.

Prior to COP28, representatives from more than 100 nations and climate lobbyists had hoped for a global commitment to “phase out” fossil fuels. Some were willing to compromise on the milder “phasing down” terminology to bring a deal home. The final text swerves even that by citing the need for a “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems”, accelerating this decade, to achieve net zero by 2050.

The key question is how much of a cop-out this represents. If the agreed text is understood as broadly akin to a “phasing down” of oil and gas production, it’s a tangible step forward. That terminology is similar to what had been envisaged by net zero number-crunchers like the Energy Transitions Commission. International Energy Agency scenarios suggest a meaningful level of oil production in 2050 can still be consistent with limiting warming to a bearable 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Mentioning the need to move on from oil and gas in any substantive way is a first for COP, and the lack of language requiring curbs only for “unabated” products will make it harder for oil producers like Saudi Arabia to drag their feet by relying on untested carbon capture technologies. Moreover, the text’s call for the world to triple renewable energy capacity and double energy efficiency by 2030 may help lead to a 25% reduction in oil demand by the end of the decade, the IEA reckons.

That said, the text is couched at the milder end of U.N. diplomatic language, and merely “calls on” countries to aim to start transitioning away. It’s not exactly a hard commitment. Meanwhile, the accord sets no actual limits on the production of crude, gas and coal.

COP28 was billed as a global stocktake to make nations’ decarbonisation plans more credible. Yet such plans still imply global temperatures could rise nearly 3 degrees Celsius. And there’s an $18 trillion gap between what’s needed by 2030 and what’s committed to finance the energy transition, according to Boston Consulting Group research, and a major question mark over how to fund the drive to net zero in developing countries. Still, al-Jaber’s baby step forward remains better than a damaging standstill.


Representatives of nearly 200 countries attending the COP28 climate summit in Dubai agreed on Dec. 13 to transition away from all fossil fuels in energy systems and accelerate action this decade so as to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the first time nations committed to move away from polluting energy sources.

The deal fell short of calling for a complete phasing out of oil, gas and coal, which more than 100 countries had lobbied for.

The agreement, struck at the end of intense two-week talks in Dubai, also envisages the trebling of global renewable energy capacity by 2030, along with faster improvements in energy efficiency.

The text of the final accord also calls for a substantial reduction by 2030 of non-carbon dioxide emissions, in particular methane.

COP28 nations estimate that about $4.3 trillion per year will need to be invested in clean energy up until 2030, and $5 trillion after that, to reach net zero emissions by 2050.